The beauty of London is that there’s a London for everyone. Fancy an evening at the theater? Check. Prefer an underground night at a punk show? Also, check. We know you’re all different, so why should your UK travel recs be the same? Here, we’ve documented a handful of must-stop spots for five distinctly different travelers: the Instagram addict, the history buff, the romantic, the penny-pinching artist, and the Audrey Hepburn wannabe. If you’re looking for advice on where to eat, sleep, shop, and hang, we got you, girl.
If there’s no photo, did it even happen? That’s just not a risk you’re willing to take, TBH. Of course, you’ll make time for the cathedrals and walking tours, but it’s those buzzy, ultra-visual destinations that have a tendency to lure you in.
When in London, afternoon tea is non-negotiable. And when that afternoon tea needs to be heavily photographed, head to Sketch. This pink palace looks like a Wes Anderson film come to life. And as weird as this may sound, don’t leave without taking a trip to the bathroom — oh, and bring your camera. The dining area might resemble the grandeur of a classic 18th-century European tea room, but the restroom is a portal into a rainbow future.
DRINK: THE CHURCHILL ARMS
Whether you visit in peak summer or the dead of winter, the exterior of the classic English pub is a sight to be seen. Covered in flowers and potted plants, The Churchill Arms is an eccentric slice of history just begging to be photographed. Once you’ve taken a selfie or two (or 10) outside of the place, head inside for yet another visual feast. The interior of this place is covered even more flowers and Winston Churchill memorabilia.
Sleep: The Hoxton Hotel
The trendy Amsterdam hotel now has two locations in London. One can be found in Shoreditch and one in the neighborhood Holborn. Don’t expect tired hotel decor here. Taking a queue from the Ace, the rooms in The Hoxton are small but oh-so-chic.
Shop: angel, ISLINGTON
A little off the beaten path lies the charming neighborhood of Angel (in the borough of Islington). Head just east of Kings Cross station and you’ll find quaint coffee shops, adorable boutiques, and the best free comedy spot in the city (The Camden Head). Be sure to wander down Camden Passage, a small street packed with little shops and pop-up booths on the weekends. Don’t forget to pop into a little place called Smug to pick up souvenirs that don’t suck.
Do: Columbia Road Flower Market
On Saturday mornings, the charming, boutique-filled street Columbia Road is taken over by the city’s finest florists. Wander between a narrow aisle of stunning stems and listen to the sellers shout like newspaper boys in thick Cockney accents. Pro tip: If you are serious about getting some nice shots of this blossoming scene, get there early. The small street gets incredibly crowded as the day goes on, making it hard to take the time to set up a shot.
You can recite at least five Shakespeare quotes by heart, and you already know exactly how many wives Henry VIII beheaded. It’s the city’s detailed, complicated, and seemingly endless past that draws you to this iconic city.
Eat: Borough Market
How can a place exist for over 1,000 years and still feel as relevant as ever? Please meet Borough Market. Located underneath the London Bridge, this is basically a farmers’ market on steroids. One section is strictly filled with items where locals can stalk up on goods like farm-fresh cheeses, fruits, veggies, spices, etc. The other section is for those looking to already have the cooking done for them. Seek out the street vendors for a midday lunch and then make sure to browse the other food stalls to snag a pick-me-up for later.
Sleep: The Milestone Hotel
Located in the swanky neighborhood of Kensington, the 328-year-old Milestone Hotel is about as British of an experience as you’ll get. The staff treats you like family. The three-tiered afternoon tea will keep you full until the following day, and suites on the top floor have a front row view of Hyde Park and Kensington Palace. The decor in each suite is totally different, but they all make you feel just as royal as the family who lives across the way. If you can’t afford a stay at the luxe hotel, at least make sure to grab a drink in the hotel’s bar, which offers a smoking Old Fashioned that’s a sight to be seen (and sipped).
Do: Blue Badge Walking Tour
The best way to really get to know your favorite London neighborhood is with a walking tour. Skip Rick Steves and opt for the help of a Blue Badge Walking Guide. These experts aren’t just well-versed in tourist attractions. Each guide is required to train intensively for two years and must pass a tourist guiding qualification exam before they can lead groups. Suffice it to say, you’ll be touted around town by an absolute expert.
Shop: Covent garden
Consider this a warning: A visit to Covent Garden will be touristy, but it’s an attraction worth the crowds. The stunning cultural destination is filled with places where you can pick up souvenirs (for yourself and for friends). This place feels modern, but make no mistake; it’s been around for ages. Covent Garden actually dates back to 1654, when it used to serve as a vegetable market.
Maybe it’s your honeymoon or your first big trip as a couple. Either way, you’re counting on London’s cobblestone alleys, charming accents, and grand architecture to serve as a picturesque backdrop while you live out all your rom-com fantasies IRL.
Eat: Maggie JoneS’s
Pubs are the heart of British culture. Have a drink in as many of them as you can, but a word to the wise: Be selective about which you choose to eat in. If you want to make sure you and classic British fare start off on the right note, make a reservation at Maggie Jones’s. There will likely be some major construction going on across the road, but don’t let that deter you. Once you walk in, the ultra-rustic, farm table decor is enough to make you forget that modern machinery even exists.
Drink: Gordon’s Wine Bar
Whether you’re looking for a drink before a show or you need a break from all the tourist attractions that surround the Embankment, Gordon’s Wine Bar is an ideal escape. On a nice day, you’ll see a crowd of Londoners enjoying a glass of wine outside, but the best part about this place is the cave-like dwellings that await indoors. A drink inside London’s oldest wine bar means hanging out in a historic, candle-lit wine vault. (Photo via @gordonswinebar)
SLEEP: THE PORTOBELLO HOTEL
If you’re trying to pretend you’re Julia Roberts and bae is Hugh Grant, the Portobello Hotel in Notting Hill is pretty much exactly where you want to be. Spend the morning sipping coffee in one of their colorful rooms hiding from the paparazzi or brave the outdoors and wander the picturesque houses that the neighborhood is famous for. You’re also just a few blocks from Portobello Road, where a bustling market and antique shops fill the street.
DO: REGENT’S PARK
No one does a garden quite like the English, and Regent’s Park is proof of that. The sprawling, green grounds are ripe for a romantic wander with that someone special. Stop in the rose garden for a casual photo shoot and then head over to the boating lake and hop in a paddle boat (“pedalo” to the Brits) to really put the cherry on top of this adorable day date.
SHOP: BROADWAY MARKET
Nestled in the heart of Hackney in East London is Broadway Market, a shopping street filled with independent shops, pubs, restaurants, and cafes. It’s fun to explore whenever you go, but if you want to experience Broadway Market in all its glory, go on a Saturday between the hours of 9am-5pm, when produce and food vendors line the streets.
You might be traveling on a budget, but you’re still on the hunt for the hippest haunts the city has to offer. You’re passionate about art, design, and disguising yourself as a local.
This place is packed with a variety of different trendy food stalls and even trendier patrons. After you’ve spent the afternoon vintage shopping nearby, refuel with a bite from one of the nine street food traders who set up shop at Dinerama Thursday through Saturday night. If you really want to embrace the hipster-ness of this place, be sure to get a drink from German Sex Dungeon, which is just as kitschy but much more PG than you’re probably thinking.
Drink: The Owl and Pussycat
Surprisingly, finding the perfect pub in London can prove to be a bit of a challenge. While some can be overly-English and feel like more of a show for tourists, The Owl and Pussycat is a prime example of a pub that’s authentic, affordable, and youthful. Hang out inside if it’s a classically cold London day or enjoy a pint out on the back patio if the sun has come out to play.
Sleep: THE DICTIONARY HOSTEL
Who says you have to sacrifice style when you’re budget-restrained? The Dictionary Hostel in Shoreditch is affordable accommodation you can still Instagram. The popular hostel offers both shared and private rooms, as well as a bar/coffee shop and an outdoor deck where you can grab a pint and meet a new friend. PS: Some of the shared rooms even have a swing!
Do: London Design Museum
Whether you work in the creative field or you’re just someone who appreciates great design, the London Design Museum near Holland Park is a great place to spend a couple of hours. After you’ve taken a Boomerang of the massive typography sign out front, make sure to dedicate at least 10 minutes to staring at the museum’s wall of crowd-sourced products. Before opening, the museum’s staff asked the public to share the best-designed everyday objects they could think of. After receiving hundreds of submissions, they narrowed it down to what you’ll see here. It’s oddly fascinating to see some of the things you still use regularly displayed in a museum setting.
Shop: BRICK LANE
East London’s Brick Lane is a popular tourist destination; there’s no getting around that. But don’t let that scare you away from checking out this iconic shopping street. Here you’ll find a refreshing mix of vintage shops, high-end boutiques, and a handful of stores that fall somewhere in between. The neighborhood is covered in street art, and if you head over on a Sunday, you’ll find the Brick Lane Market in full swing. The street is shut down to traffic and vendors take over the area selling second-hand goods, often at a negotiable price.
After the cab driver drops you at your hotel, you freshen up with a spritz of Chanel No. 5 and hit the town. You’re here trying to have your Audrey Hepburn moment and money is no object. Okay fine, it’s definitely an object, but for the duration of this trip, you’re fully prepared to splurge.
Eat: Duck and Waffle
Ignore the hustle and bustle of nine-to-fivers surrounding Liverpool station, and hop into a nearby high rise for a fancy breakfast overlooking the city. Duck and Waffle is open 24/7, but the brunch menu is what this place is famous for. For something savory, go for the “Duck & Waffle” (crispy leg confit, fried duck egg, and mustard maple syrup). For something on the sweeter side, try the “Full Elvis” waffle (peanut butter and jelly spread, banana brûlée, and whipped cream). But be warned: Don’t head here without a reservation. The small space is perpetually popular but so very worth the effort of calling ahead.
After you’ve strolled along the historic Carnaby Street in Soho (the epicenter of London’s famous ‘60s mod scene) pop into this speakeasy-style bar. Over the years, Disrepute’s underground location has been home to a number of members-only clubs, some of which have hosted icons like Marilyn Monroe and even Audrey herself. But don’t expect waitresses in flapper dresses and a bartender who’s only interested in serving you a whiskey on the rocks. The decor is a gemstone-hued ode to the ‘60s. Take a seat on one of the many plush velvet armchairs or pop into a booth that resembles the chicest bunker you’ve ever had a cocktail in. Keeping with its history, Disrepute is technically also members-only after 11pm. So come in for a pre-dinner drink to get the evening off to a swanky start.
Sleep: The Beaumont
In the ultra-classy neighborhood of Mayfair is the Beaumont Hotel, a place that looks so authentically art-deco, it could easily be mistaken as a relic of a bygone era. This hotel is built off of the life story of Jimmy Beaumont, a businessman who left New York for London when the prohibition hit. But there’s one very important catch: Jimmy Beaumont isn’t real. To help give the new hotel a soul, the creators invented the story of Jimmy. Fictional or not, everything in this place — down to the celebrity autographs addressed to him in the hotel’s restaurant — is designed with Jimmy in mind.
DO: Bike the REGENT’S Canal
If there’s one thing we know to be true about Audrey, it’s that she loved a leisurely bike ride. If you want to partake in an easy afternoon cruise, rent a Santander Cycle for the afternoon (often referred to as a “Boris Bike” by the locals). Much like NYC’s Citi Bike program, there are docking stations located all over the city. Pick one up in East London after a stroll along Broadway Market (see above) and cruise along Regent’s Canal (AKA “Little Venice”). Drop the bike off somewhere around Camden Lock for a leisurely 30-minute ride.
Shop: Redchurch Street
East London is often associated with a plethora of vintage shops, but once you’ve seen one too many Fresh Prince-inspired looks on Brick Lane, walk a block north and check out this haven for independent designers. If you want to leave London with an investment piece by some of the country’s hippest talent, bring your credit card and do some damage.
Looking for even more UK travel advice? Head over to Visit Britain for endless inspo.
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